Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Efficacy of Key Performance Indicators in Ontario Universities as Perceived by Key Informants

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Efficacy of Key Performance Indicators in Ontario Universities as Perceived by Key Informants

Article excerpt


The Ministry of Education and Training's Task Force on University Accountability first proposed performance indicators for colleges and universities in Ontario in the early 1990s (Ministry of Education and Training, 1993). The decision to develop and use key performance indicators (KPIs) was made that same decade, to help students reach informed program decisions (MET, 1998). The required KPIs for the Ontario universities were graduation rates, employment rates, and Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan default rates. The research project behind this paper studied the impact of KPIs on a large group of Ontario universities-specifically, the efficacy of KPIs in the context for which they were adopted, 10 years following their implementation, as "key informants" saw them. This investigation further sought to identify areas of concern among the participants and to solicit suggestions for either altering or improving the KPIs' effectiveness. The informants from the Ministry of Education and Training's Task Force on University Accountability, known as the Broadhurst Task Force (named after the task force's chair, Dr. William Broadhurst), included a member appointed by the ministry, a Council of Ontario Universities (COU) representative, and an observer/consultant of the task force. This paper presents a report based on the responses to online survey statements and one-on-one follow-up interviews with key informants from the participating universities. Collectively, the results provide a measure of the strength of the respondents' agreement or disagreement with a series of statements on a four-point, forced-choice response scale (from strongly disagree to strongly agree).

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) has declared that the KPIs are published to enable parents and students to make an informed choice of program and institution for the student's post-secondary education, to help universities evaluate the quality of programs, and to improve the universities' performance (MTCU, 2012). Having examined the history of why and how KPIs were introduced in Ontario, I was motivated to research the following lines of inquiry: (i) to assess whether these KPIs are having the intended effect and (ii) to reflect on whether changes could improve their effectiveness. As this paper will demonstrate, the findings of the study provide a better understanding of the impact of the KPIs, as well as suggestions for alternative models and/or adjustments to improve future performance. The collected data may also be valuable resources to inform evidence-based MTCU policy decisions that will directly affect Ontario's universities and their stakeholders. If the KPIs were initially effective gauges after the collection of KPIs was imposed in September 1999, are they still? Is there a need to re-examine other accountability measures that may be more effective in the current and future context for Ontario universities? Addressing these general research questions, this paper is part of a larger study driven by seven research questions, of which I consider the following four for discussion here; these share a common theme and were selected for their relevance to Ontario universities. Based on the observation and experience of key informants:

1. To what extent does each of the KPIs impact institutional planning in participating Ontario universities?

2. To what extent do universities use KPI results for recruiting students, setting tuition fees for specific programs, or other purposes?

3. What is the effectiveness of KPIs in improving the performance of universities at the institutional and program levels? That is, what is the impact of each of the KPIs, if any, on academic planning and delivery, according to this group of stakeholders?

4. How are the three KPIs currently in place appropriate measures of institutional performance and accountability? What other indicators may better serve all stakeholders-i. …

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